Engaging in the Fall Cleanup

For many people, fall is a time when they cut the grass the last time, take their car to the mechanic for winterization, check for air leaks in the windows, and ensure the furnace will run. These common chores affect anyone involved in self-sufficiency as well. For example, you still need to get your car ready—assuming you have one.

However, fall cleanup requires a lot more from anyone engaged in self-sufficiency because there are more facets to their environment. For example, fall is the time when you need to ensure your animal cages are completely cleaned. (Yes, you also clean them at other times, but fall is when you take everything apart and really clean it up.) If some of your animals are outdoors, you need to ensure they’ll have sufficient cover for the winter months. For us, that means scrubbing down every one of the rabbit hutches and letting them dry before we put a rabbit back inside. In addition, we add any manure under the cages to the compost heap. The chicken coop needs to be cleaned completely, the old hay replaced, and the windows closed. I also make sure I wash the window so the chickens can see out. It turns out that chickens like a nice view too.

Of course, you take the garden down after picking any remaining goodies and plant your winter rye to prevent erosion. The fall is a good time to look for potential soil issues and possibly get a soil test so that you know how to deal with problems the following spring. Likewise, your herb and flower gardens require attention so that any perennial plants will make it through the winter. However, don’t put mulch on immediately. Wait until the garden is frozen and then put the mulch on. Doing so will ensure that the plants are properly prepared for the winter.

You may not have thought of it, but all of your equipment has taken a beating during the summer months, including all of the equipment used for canning. This is a good time to scrub your pots and pans up and ensure they’re in good shape before you put them up. Make sure your pressure canner receives particular attention. Check to see if the gasket is in good shape, along with the rubber plug used for emergency pressure relief. Your stove will need a thorough cleaning and may require maintenance as well. Make sure everything is put away correctly so that you don’t have to waste a lot of time trying to find it in the late spring when you begin using it again.

Don’t think you’re finished yet. Now is the time to start walking the grounds looking for problems in your orchard. For example, it’s relatively easy to find pests that hide on trees during this time of the year. Make sure you check trees for problems associated with stress. For example, pear trees are prone to crack at the joints. You might need to mark some areas for special pruning in the spring. If a problem seems especially serious, you may want to address it now, rather than later.

Being self-sufficient means ending as well as you began. During the spring there is an excitement that builds that makes it easy to prepare for the new gardening season, but by the end of the season, all you really want to do is flop down in front of the wood stove. The time you take to prepare now will pay significant dividends in the spring. Let me know about your fall preparations at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Choosing an Appropriate Stove

I’m not here to recommend a particular stove or brand of stove. I’ve found over the years that a stove that works for one person, doesn’t work at all for someone else. We all have different ideas of precisely what makes the perfect stove. For example, some people prefer white stoves, while others think that colors are the way to go. The selection of stoves is also limited by local availability and the size of your pocketbook. I’m sure that there are some people reading this who will merrily spend $5,000.00 or more on a stove and never think twice about it. So, I’m not here to tell you that a particular stove is the end all invention of stoves because it probably isn’t true in your case. Stoves used for self-sufficiency purposes, especially canning, do have some features in common though and that’s the point of this post.

Glass top stoves are completely out of the question if you want to can. Even the vendors will tell you that placing a heavy canner on a glass-topped stove is doomed to failure (or at least breakage of the top). That said, I know of at least one person who uses their glass topped stove for canning, quite successfully I might add. Still, it’s probably not a very good idea and forget about any warranty work if the vendor discovers that your stove top broke from canning.

We tried an electric stove that was specifically designed for canning. The vendor even talked about canning in the manual. This stove came with some high wattage burners designed to heat the water more quickly. The problem is that the electric stove doesn’t get enough air flow to cool the burners (as odd as that might sound) when a big canner is sitting on top of the elements. I ended up replacing the burners almost every year because the metal holding the elements together would sag and eventually the pot ended up resting right on top of the stove (with the resultant fire hazard). After the stove burst into flames the second time (and I was looking at rewiring it yet again), I decided that electric wasn’t going to make it for us. That said, I know of more than a few people who do successfully use electric stoves for canning. Almost every one of them has removed the vendor-supplied burners and provided heavier duty canning burners. AP Wagner is one place that sells these burners—be prepared to pay an arm and a leg for one (a burner that normally runs around $30.00 will cost nearly $80.00 in canning burner form), if you can even find one to fit your stove.

That leaves gas stoves. Even here you can make some serious mistakes. Look for a gas stove that specifically mentions canning in the manual. Check out reviews from other people who use the stove for canning purposes. The grates should be quite heavy if you plan to use the stove for canning because a canner is quite heavy (especially when working with a pressure canner). Make sure the grates aren’t so high that they actually prevent good heat transfer to your canner. It’s a good idea to obtain a gas stove that has at least one power burner (more is better). Unfortunately, the power burner will also trash any sort of sauce you try to make with it, so a simmer burner is also a good idea. The stove we finally purchased has one standard burner, two power burners, and a simmer burner. We’re finding that it works extremely well for every task.

No matter which stove type you choose, make sure it has a porcelain finish and not a painted finish. Some vendors will try to pawn a painted finish off on you and the paint is guaranteed to peel from the heat generated from canning. Unless you like the idea of repainting your stove with high temperature paint (nasty stuff) on a regular basis, porcelain is the only way to go.

Another issue to consider is the size of the back panel. Many stoves have back panels that jut out as a fashion statement. Unfortunately, the back panel design also makes it impossible to use the back burners with anything larger than a small pan. This sort of stove is unlikely to work well for canning purposes (Rebecca and I know, we’ve tried). If nothing else, take your pans to the store and test fit them on the stove before you buy. You really don’t want to discover that your pans won’t fit after the stove is already installed in your home.

If you’re using your stove for canning like we do, then you’ll find that it takes a lot of abuse. We bought one with as few gizmos as possible because gizmos tend to break easily when you use them a lot. Simpler is better when it comes to canning. To help make the stove even more reliable, make sure you read the manual that comes with it and perform all of the vendor-recommended maintenance, including the required cleaning. For example, we found out that ammonia really does work better for cleaning the stove than other cleaners. (We tried it as part of the vendor-recommended maintenance.) The ammonia fumes are quite nasty, so we run the hood on high speed during cleaning to remove them.

Our results may vary from yours, but we’re also finding that gas is less expensive to can with than electric. I’m still trying to figure out precisely how much less, but my preliminary estimate shows that you save about 17% using gas over electric. In order to come up with a precise number, I’m going to have to figure out how many BTUs are required to perform a typical canning operation on each device, and then compare the per BTU costs of each fuel source. We’ve also discovered that canning with gas takes less time because the water heats more quickly. You should know though that we’re using propane and that could change the economics of canning. Choose carefully if you value long term costs as part of your purchasing decision.

What sorts of things have you found important when choosing a stove? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.